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Multiscale observing system simulation experiments for iron fertilization in the Southern Ocean, Equatorial Pacific, and Northeast Pacific

Plankton bloom seen from space. Credit: NASA

Why we care
Iron is a critical limiting nutrient for phytoplankton in the ocean. Iron fertilization adds this limiting nutrient to promote phytoplankton blooms as a way to take up carbon dioxide and store carbon when they sink. Unknowns on the effectiveness, measurement and monitoring need to be addressed. To address these unknowns, this project uses iron fertilization simulation experiments that are larger and longer than prior studies.

What we will do
This project studies the effectiveness of iron enrichment for carbon capture at different scales and the long-term effects of regional iron fertilization. Researchers will conduct Observing System Simulation Experiments using ocean biogeochemical models to design the required observing systems, and assess the potential impacts of instrumentation. The Observing System Simulation Experiments will target field trials in three regions: the Southern Ocean, the Equatorial Pacific, and the Subarctic Pacific. High resolution models will examine the extent of carbon sequestration and potential effects on local and remote ecosystems on a small scale. Global biogeochemical models will explore the long-term effects of regional iron fertilization, including carbon sequestration and monitoring of ecosystem perturbations. 

Benefits of our work
This project will address the effectiveness of ocean iron fertilization as a carbon dioxide removal technique, identify potential unintended ecological consequences, and determine the necessary systems for monitoring carbon and ecosystem changes. The study addresses questions regarding the magnitude, duration, observing systems, time scales, and impacts on ecosystem services of iron fertilization. The broader scientific community will have input to improve the Observing System Simulation Experiments. These global models, when run over many years, will also investigate the ocean’s capacity to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide by means of iron fertilization and the fundamental changes that the method may cause to ocean ecosystems.

Award amount: $1,983,731
Funding source(s):
NOAA Global Ocean Monitoring and Observing (GOMO), NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (OAP), National Science Foundation 
Project duration: 3 years

Dennis McGillicuddy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Ken Buesseler, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
John Dunne, NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory
Kristen Krumhardt, National Center For Atmospheric Research
Matthew Long, National Center For Atmospheric Research
Charles Stock, NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory
Weifeng (Gordon) Zhang, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Read the press release from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI).

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The NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) works to prepare society to adapt to the consequences of ocean acidification and conserve marine ecosystems as acidification occurs. Learn more about the human connections and adaptation strategies from these efforts.

Adaptation approaches fostered by the OAP include:


Using models and research to understand the sensitivity of organisms and ecosystems to ocean acidification to make predictions about the future, allowing communities and industries to prepare


Using these models and predictions as tools to facilitate management strategies that will protect marine resources and communities from future changes


Developing innovative tools to help monitor ocean acidification and mitigate changing ocean chemistry locally


On the Road

Drive fuel-efficient vehicles or choose public transportation. Choose your bike or walk! Don't sit idle for more than 30 seconds. Keep your tires properly inflated.

With your Food Choices

Eat local- this helps cut down on production and transport! Reduce your meat and dairy. Compost to avoid food waste ending up in the landfill

With your Food Choices

Make energy-efficient choices for your appliances and lighting. Heat and cool efficiently! Change your air filters and program your thermostat, seal and insulate your home, and support clean energy sources

By Reducing Coastal Acidification

Reduce your use of fertilizers, Improve sewage treatment and run off, and Protect and restore coastal habitats

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You've taken the first step to learn more about ocean acidification - why not spread this knowledge to your community?

Every community has their unique culture, economy and ecology and what’s at stake from ocean acidification may be different depending on where you live.  As a community member, you can take a larger role in educating the public about ocean acidification. Creating awareness is the first step to taking action.  As communities gain traction, neighboring regions that share marine resources can build larger coalitions to address ocean acidification.  Here are some ideas to get started:

  1. Work with informal educators, such as aquarium outreach programs and local non-profits, to teach the public about ocean acidification. Visit our Education & Outreach page to find the newest tools!
  2. Participate in habitat restoration efforts to restore habitats that help mitigate the effects of coastal acidification
  3. Facilitate conversations with local businesses that might be affected by ocean acidification, building a plan for the future.
  4. Partner with local community efforts to mitigate the driver behind ocean acidification  – excess CO2 – such as community supported agriculture, bike & car shares and other public transportation options.
  5. Contact your regional Coastal Acidification Network (CAN) to learn how OA is affecting your region and more ideas about how you can get involved in your community
       More for Taking Community Action